This is the second part of our series documenting some of the best photography locations throughout the world. The first part focused on landscape photography spots and this article will focus on top wildlife photography spots.
Nothing is more exhilarating than seeing unique wildlife species in their natural habitat. Wildlife photographers know how much time and effort it can take for sightings like that. Some locations are obviously better than others and this list will highlight some of the top locations. As a preface, a list like this could seriously include only locations in Africa, but I decided to group Africa as one and include some other spots. In my opinion, Africa is the greatest wildlife locale on Earth and I will delve more into WHY later.
Just like the landscape list, this is not an all-inclusive list. I am sure that I left off some great wildlife spots. This list also focuses on locations that tend to be great for ‘mega’ fauna. If any of these locations inspire you, check out our workshop listings here at Backcountry Journeys. We know many of these spots better than anyone and have scheduled workshops to most of the included destinations.
Let me know in the comments if I missed any great spots. I already know I left out some premier birding destinations, but as I said, the focus is more on megafauna. Enjoy!
Africa offers so much diversity in wildlife, it is insane. It is my number one spot on Earth for wildlife photography (albeit Africa is a gigantic continent). The iconic plains and savannah of Southern Africa are a good place to start. Some of the greatest parks and safaris are located in the south – Masai Mara, the Serengeti, Chobe National Park, the Okavango Delta, and the Ngorongoro just to name a few. At all you will have a great chance to see the big fauna of Africa – lions, zebra, cheetahs, elephants, leopards, rhino, hippo, hyenas…honestly the list could go on forever. Personally, I have only visited Etosha National Park in Namibia, but I saw many of those species. The plains are an oasis of wildlife, it is hard to describe. One of those parks should be on the list for any wildlife enthusiast. The south also holds a great marine area on the southern coast of South Africa, it is one of the best places in the world to view great white sharks. Move further north and you have the iconic gorillas of Uganda, the Gelada of Ethiopia, and the bustling habitat of the Nile River.
When I mentioned Antarctica, I also mean to include the surrounding areas like South Georgia Island and the Falkland Islands. A journey here is unlike any other wildlife expedition on the planet. It is a once in a lifetime destination. There are fantastic landscapes, but it is one of the greatest places in the world for wildlife. The surrounding ocean is one of the richest bodies of water, supporting a wide range of diverse wildlife. You can expect to see countless species of penguins, seals, whales, and marine birds (king penguins, minke whales, leopard seals, and albatross just to name a few!). Because Antarctica is such a pristine area with no human development, wildlife are very tame…and the ability to get close to many species in possible. If you ever have the chance to go, GO!, it will be the trip of a lifetime.
In the landscape destinations article, I said Alaska would be one of the only locations to be listed on both the landscape and wildlife post. There are a few others that could have made it too, like Africa or Antarctica, but Alaska is truly a special place. The coast areas of Alaska offer a great opportunity to view marine wildlife (whale, Bald eagle, porpoise, seal, the salmon runs, and otter), but they also include one of the greatest populations of brown bear. Coastal brown bear in Alaska are the largest on Earth and there are many great spots on the Alaskan Coast to view and photograph them. The interior of Alaska is very different from the coast, at a park like Denali National Park, expect to see Brown bear, caribou, Dall sheep, moose, fox, and wolves. The far north of Alaska is also a great place to see Polar bear. You could say Alaska is the Bear capital of the world.
India is a country with many different biomes, that host a wide range of wildlife and bird species. India is maybe best known for its jungles and grasslands, which house the famous Bengal Tiger. There are not many left in the world (or places where you can consistently see them) and many experts say that tigers will be extinct within the next decade or so. Thankfully, India is doing a lot for their tiger populations and two parks within India feature a growing population of tigers – Kanha and Bandhavgarh National Parks (we offer a workshop that visits both parks). There are some other unique species that make India a great place to visit too – Asiatic sloth bears, rhinos, elephants, snow leopards, gaur, chital, and maybe even a dhole.
The Amazon Rainforest
The Amazon Rainforest is the largest rainforest on the planet, so it can be expected that is an ideal place for a wildlife photography trip. It covers 5.5 square million kilometers, that is about 40% of South America! And just take a look at these stats, the Amazon Rainforest includes 40,000 plant species, 1,300 bird species, 3,000 types of fish, 430 mammals and 2.5 million different insects…talk about diversity. Expect to see poison dart frogs, kinkajous, jaguars, macaws, dolphins, tamarins, anacondas, and maybe even some piranhas if you dip into the river! The southern portion of the Amazon also borders another famous area called The Pantanal. The Pantanal is the world’s largest wetland and it is one of the best places to view jaguars and we are excited to offer a workshop there next year. If you have seen the unique photos of jaguars stalking and hunting caiman, it was most likely taken in The Pantanal.
Yellowstone National Park
Alaska takes the cake for best wildlife spot in the United States, but the lower 48 is not a slouch either. Yellowstone National Park and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem expand across three states, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. It has the highest density of mammal species in the lower 48 and remains one of the best places in the US to view bears, both brown and black. Yellowstone offers so much more though. It is one of the best places to see bison herds and you are sure to get stuck in a ‘bison jam’, remember bison have the right of way. Yellowstone also saw the reintroduction of wolves back in 1995. Wolves now thrive in the park and Yellowstone is a great place to see them, although you might need to seriously dedicate some time to it. The wolf packs of Yellowstone are iconic and have been subject to much scientific research. If you are looking for a wildlife destination a little closer to home (for us living in the US), look no further than Yellowstone National Park, it is good in all seasons.
It seems like some of the greatest wildlife destinations are located at the extreme poles of our planet. Svalbard is no different. This Norwegian archipelago is known as the ‘Wildlife Capital of the Arctic’. Species diversity is low in Svalbard, but it is on this list because it is one of the best places to view and photograph polar bears. Matter of fact, more polar bears live in Svalbard than people. Estimations place the polar bear population around 3,000 animals, while only about 2,000 people live on the island. Svalbard is also a great place to see walrus, reindeer, arctic fox, and maybe even a blue whale. Summer is the best time to visit since the sun does not set for 4 months during the summer season. That means lots of time to photograph!
Costa Rica is a magical place for wildlife, and we have been running workshops there for as long as we can remember. This small Central American country holds 5% of the world’s biodiversity. That is an amazing stat since Costa Rica only takes up about 0.03% of the world’s surface. Here are some of the amazing biodiversity stats on Costa Rica – 130 species of freshwater fish, 160 species of amphibians, 208 species of mammals, 220 species of reptiles, 850 species of birds, 1,000 species of butterflies, 1,200 varieties of orchids, 9,000 species of plants, 34,000 species of insects…52 hummingbird species alone can be found in Costa Rica, it is just an amazing place. We hold our workshops on the Osa Peninsula (stay tuned for more), and we regard it as the best place to photograph wildlife in Costa Rica.
Borneo is the world’s third largest island and it is part of southeast Asia’s Malay Archipelago. It is another extremely biodiverse location, as new species are discovered daily. But, the rarities seem to make Borneo stick out. You can see endangered orangutans, endangered flat-headed cats, endangered pygmy elephants, and endangered Proboscis monkey. Being such a large island, its topography varies greatly and there are many microbiomes on the island that house a variety of uniquely adapted species.
The Galapagos Islands are definitely up in the running for most miraculous islands on Earth. The islands represent a great opportunity to photograph endemic species. Like Svalbard, the magic of the Galapagos does not lie in its species diversity, but in its few species that specifically evolved for life on the island. Its isolation has made it a perfect case study for evolution, just ask Charles Darwin. Here, you will find some of the strangest wildlife species on Earth. The islands most famous species alone makes the visit worthwhile. Yes, I am talking about the Giant Tortoise. The marine iguana is another great endemic to photograph on the island, it is the only iguana adapted for sea life. Bird lovers will love seeing the interesting bird species too, especially the blue-footed booby.
Matt Meisenheimer is a photographer based in Wisconsin. His artistry revolves around finding unique compositions and exploring locations that few have seen. He strives to capture those brief moments of dramatic light and weather, which make our grand landscapes so special. Matt loves the process of photography – from planning trips and scouting locations, taking the shot in-field, to post-processing the final image. Matt is an active adventurer and wildlife enthusiast as well. He graduated with a degree in wildlife ecology and worked in Denali National Park and Mount Rainier National Park as a biologist. He also spent 6 months working in the deserts of Namibia before finding his path in photography. Matt’s passion for the wilderness has taken him to many beautiful places around the world. As a former university teaching assistant, Matt is passionate about instruction. It is his goal to give his students the technical and creative knowledge they need to achieve their own photographic vision. He truly enjoys working with photographers on a personal level and helping them reach their goals. You can see Matt’s work and portfolio on his webpage at www.meisphotography.com